Does Friday constitute the first “real” day of summer?
• The NBA wrapped up its season in grand fashion on Thursday night as the Miami Heat and LeBron James dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out the NBA Finals.
• The Stanley Cup Playoffs are but a distant memory in the minds of most NHL fans, though new-found Kings fans are going to get some more mileage out of those freshly-minted sweaters before putting them into the closet.
• There are always football-related stories spiraling to the top of the wire, and “Bounty-Gate” and the Sandusky trial are certainly at the forefront of the news heading into the weekend.
However, this is a weekend where baseball is front and center during the final throes of interleague play. The Yankees take on the Mets, including a Sunday start for folk hero R.A. Dickey. The surprising Orioles and Nationals square off in Washington. Roy Oswalt returns to the mound as a member of the Rangers as they host the Rockies.
It’s a great weekend to celebrate the sunshine and, depending on where you live, hide from the humidity. If you retreat to the air conditioning, flip on the tube and celebrate “America’s Pastime.” Marinate how you’d run the first round of your forthcoming fantasy football draft, if you must.
Let’s review the highs and lows of the week past, including some great pitching performances and perhaps a last hurrah for a superhero-looking slugger.
Angels starter Ervin Santana halted a four-game run of misery with an absolute gem against the Diamondbacks. Santana pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout with one walk and five strikeouts. He’d allowed 25 earned runs in his previous four starts, a period in which he completed 20 1/3 innings.
The misery of 2012 continued for Tim Lincecum in his latest turn in the San Francisco rotation, a would-be quality spot against the Mariners. Lincecum allowed five earned runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner has not won since April 28, a span of nine starts. Lincecum allowed four or more runs in seven of those nine starts.
The pride of Chatsworth high school, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, hit his tenth home run of the season in a 3-for-5 performance against the Cardinals. Moustakas drove in four runs and scored twice. The 23-year-old third baseman has ripped 26 extra-base hits in 234 at-bats with 33 RBI.
Carlos Quentin of the Padres homered for the sixth time in just his 15th game since returning from the disabled list. Quentin went 1-for-2 with a home run, two RBI and a walk. He has registered 12 extra-base hits (six doubles) with 13 RBI in 60 at-bats this season.
Houston shortstop Jed Lowrie snapped a cold streak, albeit momentarily, by hitting his 13th home run of the season, a solo shot, against the Rangers. Lowrie has recorded just three hits in his past 31 at-bats with three RBI.
Baltimore hurler Jason Hammel continued his recent pattern of good and bad starts with a dominant performance against the Braves. Hammel tossed a one-hit complete game shutout, allowing two walks and eight strikeouts. He has allowed four earned runs in three of his past six starts while surrendering a single run in his other three turns in the Baltimore rotation.
The Braves lost starter Brandon Beachy to an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery during the team’s 5-0 loss to Baltimore. Beachy allowed one run with a single walk and five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings before departing. He will be sidelined into the middle of next season at a minimum. Beachy had been a fantasy hero of 2012, generating a dominant 2.00 ERA in 81 innings with 68 strikeouts.
Texas starter Colby Lewis dominated the Astros in seven innings of work to earn his sixth win of the season. Lewis allowed three hits and a walk while striking out ten Houston batters. He enjoyed his two interleague starts against the Astros, surrendering jut two earned runs in 15 innings with 16 strikeouts against two walks. Lewis has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts, thereby lowering his season ERA by two-thirds of a run (3.69 to 3.00, actually).
Max Scherzer of the Tigers represents a fantastic buy-low(er) opportunity for fantasy owners right now, though his eight shutout innings against the Rockies certainly hinder the pitch. Scherzer allowed seven hits, did not walk a batter and struck out twelve Colorado hitters to earn his sixth win of 2012. The overall numbers might leave you aghast (5.17 ERA and 1.52 WHIP), but his strikeout numbers are off the chart and he’s turned in seven quality starts in his past nine outings. He’s reduced his season ERA by 2.6 runs during this period.
Fantasy owners stayed away from Yankees starter Ivan Nova on draft day because of inferior peripheral statistics. The wins continued to come for Nova in 2012, but he’s started to round out his game in recent starts. In his most recent turn in the New York rotation, Nova allowed a single earned run on seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts to record his ninth victory of the year. The 25-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic has recorded a 0.79 ERA in his past three starts.
Wei-Yin Chen won his third straight start by pitching seven shutout innings against the Braves. Chen allowed six hits and a walk with two strikeouts. The left-hander has pitched effectively with the exception of three starts against the Nationals, Rays and Pirates. In his other ten appearances, Chen has pitched to a 2.11 ERA.
Garrett Richards may not hold down a spot in the Anaheim rotation much longer (more on that in a second), but he pitched a gem against Arizona in his third start of the season. The 24-year-old righty pitched eight shutout innings, scattering four hits and four walks with five strikeouts as the Angels shut out the Diamondbacks 2-0. Richards has struck out 17 batters in 21 innings pitched and, though he has issued eleven walks, he’s allowed only two earned runs in his 20 innings pitched as a starter.
Richards will remain in the rotation temporarily and take a turn against the Dodgers on Sunday while the team awaits the healthy return of Jerome Williams. Williams, as you may recall, was briefly hospitalized after his last start when he experienced difficulty breathing.
Preseason “Ninja” special Jason Kipnis continued his stellar play for the contending Indians against the Pirates. Kipnis went 3-for-5 with his eleventh home run of the season and stole his 17th base. With a .276 season batting average (.254 in June) and 41 RBI to go along with the aforementioned home run and stolen base totals, Kipnis has already outperformed expectations in his 67 games played.
He won’t see many at-bats now that interleague play drifts into the rear view mirror, but it was fun to watch Jim “Mr. Incredible” Thome slugging away for the Phillies during the past two weeks. Thome hit his fourth home run in eight games, a solo home run, in a 6-2 Philadelphia loss to the Blue Jays. During that period, Thome batted .290 (9-for-31) with four home runs and 13 RBI.
As I mentioned in our most recent “Fantasy 15” podcast, “The Legend of R.A. Dickey” continued in his latest turn against the Orioles. Dickey pitched his second consecutive one-hitter while striking out a career-high 13 batters. The 37-year-old knuckle-baller has broken the mold in 2012 with a dominant strikeout rate. During his six-game winning streak, Dickey has struck out at least eight batters in each game with four double-digit efforts. He lowered his season ERA to 2.00 in this most recent start. Who will play him in the movie?
Ike Davis hit a grand slam in support of Dickey, his seventh of the season. He extended his hitting streak to nine games with his sixth inning blast. During this period, Davis hit two home runs while driving in eleven runs. He also raised his batting average 38 points, though Davis has yet to crack through the .200 ceiling.
* Davis went 0-for-7 in the final two games of the Baltimore series to reduce his batting average to .190.
Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce went 3-for-4 with his 16th home run and two RBI in the Reds’ 10-9 loss to the Indians. Bruce homered for the third time in four games in this, his first multi-hit effort since June 7. He’s batted just .224 in June, though he has logged five home runs with 14 RBI.
Matt Cain’s quest to repeat his perfect game against the Angels ended quickly when Mike Trout led off the bottom of the first inning with a single. Cain did, however, pitch the requisite five innings to extend his winning streak to eight consecutive games. He allowed three earned runs on six hits and four walk, hardly dominant stuff, but good enough to earn his ninth victory.
Arizona starter Wade Miley won for the second time in three starts by pitching seven innings of one-run ball against the Mariners. Miley scattered nine hits and a walk with eight strikeouts. He’s allowed three earned runs in his past 22 2/3 innings and owns a fantastic 2.30 ERA this season despite a weak strikeout total overall (57 in 82 1/3 IP).
Matt Harrison of the Rangers won for the fifth time in six starts, taking full advantage of a date against the anemic San Diego offense. Harrison allowed one earned run on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts. During this period, Harrison has lowered his season ERA by 1.82 runs.
Mark Teixeira went 1-for-4 with his twelfth home run of the season in the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the Braves. Teixeira extended his meager hitting streak to three games, a streak that reached five games heading into this weekend’s showdown with the upstart Mets.
Toronto outfielder Colby Rasmus continued his hot month of June with two home runs against the Brewers in what became a home run-hitting contest. Rasmus went 2-for-5 with two RBI in the 10-9 win. The 25-year-old slugger owns a strong .316 June batting average, up 79 points from May production, with six home runs and 15 RBI.
Jose Bautista hasn’t reproduced his lofty batting average from 2011, but the Toronto slugger continues to send balls deep into the night. Bautista homered twice in a 2-for-4 performance against the Brewers, his second and third home runs of the series. He’s homered 22 times this season in 250 at-bats.
All eyes continue to drift toward Anaheim (not for Cars Land) and the progress achieved by slugger Albert Pujols. Pujols homered for the second time in three games with a 2-for-3 performance and four RBI against the Giants. He’s hit eleven home runs with 17 doubles and 43 RBI in 271 at-bats. Following a dismal start to the season, Pujols owns a .292 June batting average.
Jake Peavy was a hard-luck loser for the second straight start as the White Sox fell to the Cubs 2-1. Peavy allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits and a walk in a complete game loss with five strikeouts. In his past four starts, Peavy has posted a record of 0-2 with two no-decisions despite pitching to a 1.91 ERA.
Comeback hero Johan Santana won for the second straight start in a shutout over the Orioles. Santana scattered four hits and two walks over six innings with five strikeouts. He’s won four of his past five starts, a period during which Santana has logged a fantastic 2.65 ERA.
Cole Hamels continues to provide relief every fifth day for despondent Philadelphia fans. Hamels earned his tenth win of the season and seventh in nine starts against the dismal Rockies club. Hamels completed eight innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
Washington slugger Michael Morse hit his first home run of 2012 in his 15th game of the season and drove in two runs in a 5-4 loss to the Rays. Morse has hit safely in six of his past nine games and owns a weak .209 batting average. Is the former third-round selection of the White Sox a second-half Ninja waiting to strike?
One of our preseason heroes, Milwaukee closer John Axford, has fallen on hard times. Axford blew his third save in his past five chances, surrendering two earned runs on two solo home runs in a loss to Toronto. Axford has allowed eight earned runs in his past six appearances.
Brandon McCarthy baffled the Dodgers in a 3-0 victory in Oakland. McCarthy allowed two hits and a walk while striking out five batters in seven innings. He’s won three consecutive starts, pitching to a 1.35 ERA with twelve strikeouts and three walks. McCarthy lowered his season ERA to 2.54 in the victory.
The Rockies are flailing through a miserable 2012 season and will be without Troy Tulowitzki indefinitely. However, fantasy owners have found a bright spot in catcher Wilin Rosario, who went 1-for-4 with his eleventh home run of the season in a 4-1 win over the Phillies. He homered in back-to-back games during the Philadelphia series with five RBI and carries a five-game hitting streak into the weekend.
It’s been a rough road for Jason Heyward in 2012, but his bat has picked up of late. Heyward extended his hitting streak to seven games in the series finale against the Yankees and hit two home runs (2-for-4 with three RBI). The celebrated slugger had homered only three times since May 11 prior to Wednesday’s outburst. Will he heat up with the weather?
Toronto Edwin Encarnacion remained a powerhouse Ninja in fantasyland and hit a home run in each game of the Blue Jays’ three-game series against the Brewers. Encarnacion extended his hitting streak to five games to raise his batting average to .283. He has already eclipsed his 2011 home run total and needs one more longball to match his 2010 output.
Alex Rodriguez went 1-for-4 with his eleventh home run of the season in the Yankees’ 10-5 loss to the Braves. Rodriguez has produced just a single multi-hit game in the month of June, though he has driven in 13 runs. He’s batting an anemic .215 this month with 20 strikeouts in 65 at-bats.
Second baseman Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks homered for the third straight game, a solo home run in the wild 14-10 win over Seattle. Hill’s bat came alive during this series, producing eight hits in twelve at-bats with three doubles, a triple, the three home runs and four RBI.
Stephen Strasburg extended his winning streak to six games with another dominant performance against the Rays. Strasburg allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with ten strikeouts, his sixth start with at least nine strikeouts this season. Overall, the 23-year-old righty has struck out five batters per walk issued. The All-Star invitation has already been forwarded to the calligrapher.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit his 13th home run of the season, a total that leads all major league catchers. Saltalamacchia went 2-for-4 and scored three runs in the blowout win over the Marlins. He has been an extra-base hit machine for the Red Sox in 2012, producing 26 extra-base hits in 178 at-bats.
Boston slugger David Ortiz launched his 18th home run of the season and drove in four runs in support of Felix Doubrant. Ortiz homered for the third straight game and extended his hitting streak to six games. The 36-year-old slugger has generated 39 extra-base hits in 252 at-bats with 49 RBI. Fantasy owners are curious to see whether Ortiz can keep this pace up through the dog days of summer and the September push to the playoffs. Last year, Ortiz faltered down the stretch and hit a single home run in 94 September at-bats.
Doubrant won for the seventh time in nine starts. He allowed four earned runs on nine hits with four strikeouts in six innings pitched. Doubrant has pitched to a 3.88 ERA during this nine-game stretch.
Mark Trumbo homered for the third time in five games, a solo home run, and extended his hitting streak to five games in the Angels’ 6-0 win over the Giants. Trumbo has hit safely in nine of his past ten games with five home runs and 15 RBI. He’s ripped 34 extra-base hits in his 225 at-bats with 48 RBI.
Prince Fielder homered for the first time in ten games, his eleventh of the season, to lead the Tigers to a 2-1 win over the Cardinals. Fielder went 2-for-4 in the contest to raise his batting average to .309. He has driven in 45 runs this season, a total that ties him for ninth in the American League.
Kyle Lohse pitched well for the Cardinals, but his offense provided zero support. As a result, Lohse posted no decision for his seven innings of one-run ball. He allowed four hits and a walk while striking out four batters. The 33-year-old righty has pitched to a fantastic 1.63 ERA in his past four starts, but has earned just a single victory. His 2.85 ERA this season is 2.7 runs lower than his career mark.
Following a monster month of May, Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has struggled through a difficult June. Stanton hit his second home run of the month in a 6-5 loss to Boston. The solo home run accounted for Stanton’s second RBI in his past eleven games. His batting average has dipped 29 points this month.
Gio Gonzalez earned his ninth win of the season in a 5-2 decision over the Rays. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out four batters. The 26-year-old right-hander owns a dominant 2.55 ERA while averaging 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks homered for the second straight night and drove in four runs against the Marlins. He went 3-for-4 to extend his meager hitting streak to three games and streak of games with at least a single RBI to five (nine total in this period). His play has fueled speculation about Kevin Youkilis’ likely departure from the team at the trade deadline.
Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates finds himself in the midst of a hot streak. Alvarez recorded his fourth multi-hit game in his past five starts (.529, 9-for-17) in a blowout 9-1 win over Minnesota. His 2-for-4 performance included his 13th home run of the season. During this period, the former first-round selection has homered five times with two doubles and ten RBI.
Clayton Kershaw pitched his best game in a month, generating eight innings of one-run ball against the A’s. He allowed three hits and two walks while striking out seven batters. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is receiving little support from the Dodgers offense that remains without Matt Kemp, and he’s pitched to a pedestrian (for him) 3.54 ERA in four June starts.
Finally, the pride of Australia, Travis Blackley of the A’s, tossed eight innings of one-run ball against the struggling Dodgers offense. The 6-foot-3 lefty allowed three hits and struck out six batters. Blackley has allowed three earned runs in his past 14 innings with nine strikeouts against two walks.